Brown thrilled for Knights' newest debutant
The Knights may have been celebrating Old Boys Day on Sunday afternoon but it was 'Player #278' – Newcastle's 11th debutant of the season – Dylan Phythian who earned the praise off coach Nathan Brown.
Brown couldn't have been more thrilled for the makeshift hooker Phythian – who celebrated with a try on debut – despite Newcastle falling to their 17th-straight defeat against the Rabbitohs.
In a game where the 34-12 scoreline didn't reflect the grind and effort of the Knights, Brown spoke of the positives to come from the 21-year-old and his otherwise largely inexperienced teammates.
"Dylan's an interesting kid. I watched him play earlier in the year and I said to 'Bedsy' (Knights assistant coach Danny Buderus) "that kid can play footy" to which I was told of his toughness," Brown said.
"He was injured for ages from there and every time he would've been given an opportunity he was injured. But then he came back in and he's only played a couple of reserve grade games since.
"He's a football player who cares about the scoreboard which is important at this level. To see him go out there, compete hard and get a thrill out there in front of his family was very pleasing."
Brown was otherwise pleased for his young forward pack who didn't take a backwards step against the likes of the Burgess brothers and veteran back-rower John Sutton.
"The positive for us was our young forwards. The Saifiti's, Sione Mata'utia, Mitch Barnett and all the other forwards who are 19, 20, 21; they really stood up to the task.
"Whilst the score wasn't great, we had some really positive stuff there. We were playing a side that's in great form. If Souths had been playing like this over a longer period they'd probably be in the top eight."
The Knights' final game at Hunter Stadium for the year was in celebration of retiring co-captain Jeremy Smith.
Such is Smith's standing across the NRL, the 36-year-old was praised by all and sundry across the game in a video package following the game.
Smith will play his 214th and final game next weekend against former club St George Illawarra.
"Jez is a guy who you hated playing against. I've now experienced having him on my side and he's just a great footy player," fellow co-captain Trent Hodkinson said.
"He's probably the only old school player left in the game and he plays with his heart on his sleeve."
Even Souths coach Michael Maguire and skipper Greg Inglis – who spent numerous years coaching and playing at the Storm with Smith – jumped on board with the compliments.
"He's a definitely a player you want in your side. He's a hard worker on and off the field. He's one of those blokes who you know what you're going to get from him every week. He won't let you down," Inglis said.
Maguire added: "I was fortunate to work with Jez down in Melbourne quite a few years ago. It's a real credit to see him and how he's gone throughout his career. He's a real character, a great player and he puts his body on the line every single time he's played."